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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

“THE holy council assembled at Sardica, from Rome, Spain, Gaul, Italy, Campania, Calabria, Africa, Sardinia, Pannonia, Mœsia, Dacia, Dardania, Lesser Dacia, Macedonia, Thessaly, Achaia, Epirus, Thrace, Rhodope, Asia, Caria, Bithynia, the Hellespont, Phrygia, Pisidia, Cappadocia, Pontus, another Phrygia, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lydia, the Cyclades, Egypt, Thebes, Lybia, Galatia, Palestine and Arabia, to the bishops throughout the world, our fellow-ministers in the catholic and apostolic church, and our beloved brethren in the Lord. Peace be unto you.

“The infatuation of the Arians has often led them to the perpetration of violent atrocities against the faithful servants of God; they introduce false doctrines themselves, and persecute those who uphold orthodox principles. So violent was their opposition to the faith, that it reached the ears of our beloved emperors. Through the grace of God, the emperors have summoned us from different provinces and cities to the holy council which they have appointed to be held in the city of Sardica, in order that all dissensions may be terminated, all evil doctrines repressed, and the religion of Christ alone established amongst all people. Some bishops from the east have attended the council at the solicitation of our most religious emperors, principally on account of the reports circulated against our beloved brethren and fellow-ministers, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, and Asclepas, bishop of Gaza. Perhaps the Arians have already tried to make you believe their groundless accusations of the innocent, and no doubt have endeavoured to prevent any suspicion being excited in your mind of the depraved heresy which they uphold: but they have not long been permitted so much freedom of action. The Lord is the Protector of the church; for it and for us all he suffered death, and opened for us the way to heaven.

“The adherents of Eusebius, Maris, Theodore, Theognis, Ursacius, Valens, Menophantes, and Stephen, have frequently written to Julius, the bishop of Rome, and our fellow-minister, against our aforesaid fellow-ministers, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, and Asclepas, bishop of Gaza. Some other bishop wrote to Julius, testifying the innocence of Athanasius, and proving that all that had been asserted by the partisans of Eusebius was nothing more than falsehood and calumny. The refusal of the Arians to obey the summons of our beloved brother and fellow-ruler, Julius, and also the letter written by that bishop, clearly prove the falseness of their accusation. For they would have gone to Rome had they believed that what they had done and represented against our fellow-minister admitted of justification. But their mode of procedure in that great and holy council is a manifest proof of their fraud. For when, upon their arrival at Sardica, they perceived that our brethren, Athanasius, Marcellus, Asclepas, and others, were there also, they were afraid of entering the council, although they had been summoned to attend it, not once or twice only, but repeatedly; and although they were expected by the assembled bishops, who were all worthy of honour and respect, particularly the venerable Hosius, on account of his advanced age, his adherence to the faith, and his labours in the church. Their refusal to attend the council, and their ignominious flight from it, prove more forcibly than any arguments the inaccuracy of their representations, and the duplicity of their designs.

“Those who are confident of the truth of their assertions, are always ready to avow them openly. But as these accusers would not appear to substantiate what they had advanced, any future allegations which they may by their usual artifices bring against our fellow-ministers, will only be regarded as proceeding from a desire of slandering them in their absence, not daring to confront them openly. They fled, beloved brethren, not only because they dared not avow their own calumnies, but also because they knew that they could not refute the accusations which would be brought against them. They were charged with having used chains, and the sword, as the engines of their cruelty. Several individuals were present whom they had exiled: others came forward as deputies from those still kept in exile. The relations and friends of those whom they had put to death also attended: and what was of most importance, bishops also appeared against them; one of whom exhibited the irons and the chains with which they had bound him. There were also witnesses to testify that the death of many others had been occasioned by their calumnies. Their infatuation led them to such excesses that they even attempted the life of a bishop; and he would have fallen a sacrifice to their fury, had he not escaped from their hands. Theodulos, our fellow-minister, of blessed memory, died while striving to make his escape from them; for, on account of their calumnies, he had been condemned to death. Some showed the wounds which the swords of these persecutors had inflicted on them; others deposed that they had been exposed to the torments of famine.

“All these depositions were made, not by a few obscure individuals, but by whole churches; the presbyters of these churches clearly proving that the persecutors had excited the military against their enemies, that they had armed the people for the same purpose, and that they endeavoured to terrify them into subjection by judicial threats, and by the production of spurious documents.

“Letters were read which had been written by Theognis, for the purpose of prejudicing the emperor against our fellow-ministers, Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas. This was attested by those who had formerly been the deacons of Theognis. It was also proved that they had denuded virgins, burnt churches, and imprisoned our fellow-ministers, and all for no other purpose than to support the infatuated principles of Arianism, and to take vengeance on those who refused to be associated with them. The consciousness of having committed all these crimes threw them into great perplexity. Intent upon concealing their culpability, they repaired to Sardica, thinking that their boldness in venturing thither would efface all suspicion of their guilt. But when they perceived that those whom they had falsely accused, and also those who had suffered much from their cruelty, were present; and that likewise several had come forward with various irrefragable accusations against them, they would not enter the council, although our fellow-ministers, Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas, took every means to induce them to attend; proposing not only to prove the fraudulency of the accusations they had advanced, but also to demonstrate the truth of those which were laid to their charge, and likewise to show how deeply they had injured their churches. But they were so utterly overwhelmed by the terrors of conscience, that they took to flight, and by this flight was clearly proved the falsity of their accusations, as well as their own guilt. But though their calumny and perfidy, which had indeed been apparent from the beginning, were now clearly perceived, yet we determined to examine the circumstances of the case according to the laws of truth, lest they should, from their very flight, derive pretexts for renewed acts of deceitfulness.

“Upon carrying this resolution into effect, we proved by their actions that they were calumniators, and that they had formed artful designs against our fellow-ministers. Arsenius, whom they declared had been put to death by Athanasius, is still living. This fact alone is sufficient to show that their other allegations are false. Although they spread a report every where that a chalice had been broken by Macarius, one of the presbyters of Athanasius, yet those who came from Alexandria, from Mareota, and from other places, testified that this was not the fact; and the bishops in Egypt wrote to Julius, our fellow-minister, declaring that there were no data for harbouring the least suspicion that such a deed had been committed.

“The memorials which the Arians pretend to possess against Macarius, have been all drawn up by one party: and in these documents the depositions of Pagans and of Catechumens were included. One of these Catechumens, when interrogated, replied, that he was in the church when Macarius entered it. Another deposed that Ischeras, on whom they had conferred so much celebrity, was then lying ill in his cell. Hence it appears that the mysteries could not have been celebrated at that time, as the Catechumens were present, and as Ischeras was absent; for he was at that very time confined by illness. Ischeras, that wicked man who had falsely affirmed that Athanasius had burnt the sacred books, and had been convicted of the crime, now confessed that he was ill in bed when Macarius arrived; hence the fraudulency of his accusation was clearly demonstrated. His calumny was, however, rewarded by his party; for he was made a bishop, although previously he had not even been raised to the priesthood. For two presbyters, who some time back had lived with Melitius, and were afterwards received by the blessed Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and who are now with Athanasius, protested that he had never been ordained as an elder, and that Melitius had never ruled the church nor exercised any ministry in Mareota. Yet, although he had never been ordained as an elder, they promoted him to a bishopric, in order that his title might, by imposing upon the imaginations of those who heard it, lead to the reception of his false accusations.

“The writings of our fellow-minister, Marcellus, were also read, and plainly evinced the duplicity of the adherents of Eusebius; for what Marcellus had simply suggested as a point of inquiry, they affirmed that he had laid down as an established principle. The arguments which he had advanced, before and after the inquiry were read, and his faith was proved to be orthodox. He did not affirm, as they represented, that the origin of the Word of God was dated from the conception of the holy Mary, or that his kingdom would have an end. On the contrary, he wrote that his kingdom had had no beginning, and would have no end. Asclepas, our fellow-minister, produced the memorials drawn up at Antioch in the presence of the accusers, and of Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea: and proved his innocence by the sentence of the bishops who had presided as judges. It was not then without cause, beloved brethren, that, although so frequently summoned, they would not attend the council; it was not without reason that they took to flight. The reproaches of conscience constrained them to make their escape, and thus, at the same time, to demonstrate the groundlessness of their calumnies, and the truth of those accusations which were advanced and proved against them. Besides all the other grounds of complaint, it may be added that all those who had been accused of holding the Arian heresy, and had been ejected in consequence, were not only received, but advanced to the highest dignities by them. They raised deacons to the office of the presbytery; and the presbyters who had been deposed, they promoted to the dignity of bishops; and in all this they were actuated by no other motive than the desire of propagating their heresy, and of corrupting the faith.

“Next to Eusebius, the following are their principal leaders, Theodore, bishop of Heraclea, Narcissus, bishop of Neroniades in Cilicia, Stephen, bishop of Antioch, George, bishop of Laodicea, Acacius, bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, Menophantes, bishop of Ephesus in Asia, Ursacius, bishop of Singidunum in Mœsia, and Valens, bishop of Mursa in Pannonia. All these bishops would not permit those who came with them from the east to attend the holy council, nor to join the Church of God; for, while on their road to Sardica, they held private assemblies at different places, and formed a compact cemented by oaths, that when they arrived in Sardica they would not join the holy council, nor assist at its deliberations; but that, as soon as they had presented themselves, they would immediately make their escape by flight. These facts were made known to us by our fellow-ministers, Macarius, bishop of Palestine, and Asterius, bishop of Arabia, who came with them to Sardica, and have since been converted from infidelity. These bishops complained before the holy council of the violent treatment they had received from them, and of the want of correct principles evinced in all their actions. They added, that there were many amongst them who still held orthodox opinions, but that these were prevented from going to the council; and that sometimes threats, and sometimes promises were resorted to, in order to retain them in that party. For this reason they were compelled to reside together in one house; and were never allowed, even for the shortest space of time, to be alone.

“It is not right to pass over in silence and without mention, the calumnies, the imprisonments, the murders, the wounds, the insidious letters, the indignities, the denudation of virgins, the banishments, the destruction of churches, the acts of incendiarism, the translation of bishops from small towns to large dioceses, and above all, the opposition to the true faith excited by the Arian heresy. On account then of all these crimes we have to declare the innocence and purity of our beloved brethren and fellow-ministers, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, and Asclepas, bishop of Gaza, and of all the other servants of God who are with them; and we have written to every diocese, in order that the people of each church may be made acquainted with the innocence of their respective bishops, and that they may anticipate their return, knowing that they have really the charge over them, while those who took possession of their churches are to be considered only as wolves. Among these latter may be instanced Gregory in Alexandria, Basil in Ancyra, and Quintius in Gaza. We added, that so far from looking up to those persons as bishops, the people are not even to call them Christians, nor to have any association with them, that they are not to receive any letters from them, nor to write to them.

“Theodore, bishop of Heraclea in Europe, Narcissus, bishop of Neroniades in Cilicia, Acacius, bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, Stephen, bishop of Antioch, Ursacius, bishop of Singidunum in Mœsia, Valens, bishop of Mursa in Pannonia, Menophantes, bishop of Ephesus, and George, bishop of Laodicea, were ejected from their bishoprics by the unanimous decision of the holy council: for though fear kept them back from leaving the East, they had been deposed by the blessed Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, had imbibed the infatuation of the Arians, and had been charged with various crimes. We have decreed that they are unworthy not only of the episcopal dignity, but also of communion with us. For those who represent the Son as separated from the substance and divinity of the Father, and the Word as differing from the Father, ought to be separated from the Catholic Church, and be estranged from all who bear the name of Christians. Let them then be anathema to you and to all the faithful, because they have corrupted the word of truth. For there is an apostolical precept which enjoins, that if any one should bring to you another gospel than that which ye have received, ‘let him be accursed.’ Command that no one may hold communion with them; for light can have no fellowship with darkness. Avoid coming in contact with them; for what concord has Christ with Belial? Be careful, beloved brethren, that you neither write to them nor receive their letters. Endeavour, beloved brethren and fellow-ministers, to be present with us in Spirit at the council, and give your hearty consent to what is enacted, while you affix your written signature, in order that unanimity of opinion may be established among all our fellow-ministers throughout the world. We declare that those are to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church who say that Christ is God, but not the true God; that he is the Son, but not the true Son; and that he is both begotten and unbegotten; for such persons understand the term ‘begotten’ to signify, they say, that which has been made. And although the Son of God existed before all ages, they attribute to him a beginning and an end, and yet admit that he existed before all time.

“Valens and Ursacius have, like two vipers brought forth by an asp, proceeded from the Arian heresy. For they boastingly declare themselves to be most undoubted Christians, and yet they affirm that the Word and the Holy Ghost were both crucified and slain, and that they died and rose again; and they pertinaciously maintain, like the heretics, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are of diverse and distinct hypostases. We have been taught, and we hold the catholic and apostolic tradition and faith and confession which teach, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost have one hypostasis, which is termed essence by the heretics. If it were asked, ‘What is the nature of the Son?’ we should confess, that it is the same as that of the Father; for the Father has never been, nor could ever be, without the Son, nor the Son without the Father. It is most absurd to affirm that the Father ever existed without the Son, for that this could never be the case has been testified by the Son himself, who said, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in me’ (John 14:10); and ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30). We cannot deny that he was begotten; but we say that he was begotten before all things, whether visible or invisible; and that he is the Creator of archangels and angels, and of the worlds, and of the human species. It is written, ‘The wisdom which made all things has taught me;’ and again, ‘All things were made by him’ (John 1).

“As the Word is said to have always existed, it is plain that He could have had no commencement; for if he had had a beginning, he could not have always existed. God will never have an end. We do not say that the Father is the Son, nor that the Son is the Father; but that the Father is the Father, and that the Son is the Son of the Father. We confess that the Son is the Power of the Father. We confess that the Son is the Word of God the Father, and that beside him there is no other. We believe the Word to be the true God, as well as wisdom and power. We affirm that he is truly the Son, yet not in the way in which men are said to be sons: for they are said to be the sons of God on account of their regeneration, or of their merit, and not on account of their being of one hypostasis with the Father, as is the Son. We confess that he is the only begotten Son; for he has always been and always is in the Father. He is the Firstborn with respect to human nature. He differs from those who have received the new birth, inasmuch as he is the Firstborn from the dead. We confess that there is but one God, and that the divinity of the Father and of the Son is one. No one can deny that the Father is greater than the Son: this superiority does not arise from any difference in their nature, nor indeed from any diversity existing between them, but simply from the name of the Father being greater than that of the Son.

“The following words uttered by our Lord, ‘I and the Father are one,’ are by some persons explained as referring to the concord and harmony which prevail between the Father and the Son; but this is a blasphemous and perverse interpretation. So far as we are Catholics, we have condemned this foolish and lamentable opinion: for just as mortal men sometimes quarrel and afterwards are reconciled, so do such interpreters infer that disputes and dissension are liable to arise between God the Father Almighty and his Son; a supposition which is altogether absurd and untenable. But we believe and maintain that those holy words, ‘I and the Father are one,’ point out the oneness of the hypostasis, and the unity of the Father and of the Son. We also believe that the Son reigns with the Father, that his reign has neither beginning nor end, and that it is not bounded by time, nor subject to any contingencies: for what has always existed can never have commenced, and can never terminate. We recognise and we receive the Holy Ghost the Comforter, whom the Lord promised to send, and whom we believe has been sent. It was not the Holy Ghost who suffered. He who suffered was the Christ, who took the nature of man, and was born of the Virgin Mary. As man, He was capable of suffering; for man is mortal, whereas God is immortal. We believe that on the third day the man rose in God, but that God did not rise in the man; and that Christ presented the human nature which he had delivered from sin and corruption as a gift to the Father. We believe that in his own appointed time, He will judge all men and all their actions. So great is the ignorance and mental darkness of those whom we have mentioned, that they are unable to see the light of truth. They cannot comprehend the meaning of the following words: ‘that they may be one in us.’ It is obvious why the word ‘one’ was used; it was because the apostles received the Holy Spirit of God: yet there were none amongst them who were the Holy Ghost, neither was there any one of them who was the Word, the Wisdom, the Power, or the only begotten Son. ‘As Thou,’ He said, ‘and I are one, so let them be one in us.’ These holy words ‘that they may be one in us,’ are strictly accurate: for the Lord did not say, ‘Let them be one in the same way that I and the Father are one,’ but he said, ‘Let the disciples be united together, and be one in faith, in doctrine, in the grace of God the Father, and in the love of our Lord Christ.’ ”

From this letter may be learnt the duplicity of the calumniators, and the injustice of the former judges, as well as the sound doctrines of those who attended the council. These holy fathers have taught us, not only truths respecting the Divine nature, but also doctrines relating to the redemption of man. Constans was much concerned on hearing of the weakness of his brother, and was highly incensed against those who had artfully taken advantage of it. He chose two of the bishops who had attended the council of Sardica, and sent them with letters to his brother; he also despatched Salian, a military chief who was celebrated for his piety and integrity, on the same embassy. The letters which he forwarded by them, and which were worthy of himself, contained not only entreaties and counsels, but also menaces. In the first place, he requested his brother to attend to all that the bishops might say, and to take cognizance of the crimes of Stephen and of his accomplices. He also required him to restore Athanasius to his flock; the calumny of the accusers and the injustice and impiety of his former judges having become evident. He added, that if he would not accede to his request, and perform this act of justice, that he would himself go to Alexandria, restore Athanasius to his flock which earnestly longed for him, and expel all opponents.

Constantius was at Antioch when he received this letter; and he agreed to submit to all his brother’s requisitions. But the enemies of the truth were so much displeased at this proceeding, that they resorted to execrable and impious machinations.

The two bishops resided near the foot of a mountain, while the military commander had settled in a lodging in another quarter.

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